The Chrysanthemum, the Cross, and the Dragon

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In Iver P. Cooper’s latest alternate history novel, a new contribution to Eric Flint’s 1632 Universe, the romance between Juan Cardona, an officer in Spain’s Manila garrison, and Huang Mingyu, a young, beautiful Chinese woman, is threatened when a Dutch-Japanese force launches a surprise attack on 17th century Manila. Manila falls and Juan is rescued by Huang Mingyu, who proves to have hidden talents and connections. It is then up to Juan warn the incoming Manila galleon of the Dutch-Japanese threat before it blunders into Manila Bay, and to prove his worth to Mingyu’s family.  Who have interests of their own in the region….

Will true love prevail when Japan (the chrysanthemum), Spain (the cross) and China (the dragon) come into conflict?

Manila
January 1634

Juan Cardona was walking down one of the cobbled streets of Parian, the old Chinese quarter of Manila, when he first heard her sing.

What an exquisite voice, he thought. He stopped, turning his head slowly, first in one direction and then in another, trying to figure out exactly where it was coming from.

He had no idea what she was singing of course; he didn’t speak Chinese. But her voice transcended the barrier of language.

Making progress wasn’t easy, as the streets of the Parian were narrow, crooked, dark and teeming with people. The Parian served as the market for the Spanish in the Intramuros, the Walled City, as well as for the Celestials, and while the Filipinos had their own markets, there were goods and services that could be found only in the Parian.

He dodged around a cart loaded with fish and brushed past peddlers of shoes, bridles and stirrups, and marble statues of the child Jesus. He ignored the importunities of the shopkeepers, calling him to look at their silks and silverwork, running when he could and walking when he must.

Juan arrived in a small plaza just as the voice stopped. If only I had run a bit faster, he thought mournfully. Well, I am here, perhaps I am close enough so someone here knows. The first two people he asked either couldn’t or wouldn’t help him. The third was a young Chinese lad, dressed in loose clothing and wearing a sort of skull cap, sitting in front of a shop.

“A singing woman, you say?”

Juan nodded. “Yes.”

“What does she look like?”

“I have no idea,” Juan admitted somewhat sheepishly.

The lad frowned. “That really isn’t helpful. For all you know, she’s an old lady who, when she isn’t singing, is striking terror in the hearts of her daughters-in-law.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“Do you remember what she was singing?”

“Jang-jung-zuh something or another.” Juan gave him a plaintive look. “I know that’s not much to go on….”

“It’s not. Where were you when you first heard her?”

Juan told him the intersection.

“And the singing seemed to be coming from this direction?”

“That’s right,” said Juan.

“Well then, I will keep my ears open and when I hear her sing it again, I will track her down and send word to you.”

Juan put his hand on his heart. “I would be much obliged.”

“You will indeed, because I will not do it for free.”

After some further negotiation they settled on a price. The lad even agreed that Juan had to pay only if the search was successful.

“Now, I need to know who you are and how to find you.”

“Of course. I am Lieutenant Juan Cardona of Fort Sandiego.”

“You command one of the companies?”

“Yes, the third.”

“Ah. The one that guards the Parian gate.”

“That’s right.”

Juan thanked him, and started walking back toward the fort. The lad

disappeared into the shop.

∞∞∞

“Cut-nose, where are you?” the lad demanded.

A middle-aged Chinese man, dressed in the loose-fitting clothing of a sailor, answered, “Here, mistress.” The “lad” was not a lad; indeed, he was the very songstress that Juan had been seeking.

“I had a visit from a Spanish officer. Talk to our spies among the servants at the fort. I want to know all I can about Lieutenant Juan Cardona. How long has he been at the garrison? What do the other officers and soldiers say about him? Has he been known to take a bribe? Does he keep his promises? What are his prospects for promotion?”

“It will take time….”

“I want to know within the week.” She paused. “Also ask them whether he is married, and if not, whether he has a girlfriend.”

Cut-nose snickered. “The two are not mutually exclusive. But why do you want to know?”

“Well, he is handsome, in an exotic sort of way. Blue eyes! Long blond hair caressing his shoulders! Why shouldn’t I mix business with pleasure?”

“I am not sure that your father would approve….”

“All I am contemplating right now is some harmless flirtation combined with some subtle espionage.”

∞∞∞

A couple of weeks later, Juan received the message that he had been waiting for. At the first opportunity, he returned to the shop on the square.

“So, what have you found out for me?” Juan asked.

His informant answered one question with another. “That song you heard. Was it something like this?” The “lad” drew a deep breath, and he sang in her voice.

“jiāng zhòngzi xī,

wú yú wŏ lĭ,

wú zhé wŏ shù qĭ”

Juan turned red. “I am very sorry to have troubled you,” he stammered. “I thought you were—”

“I am, actually. A maiden, that is.”

Juan took a closer look at the singer. “Why are you dressed in men’s clothes?”

“When my brother died, my father decided that I would be his heir and would learn the family business. I wouldn’t be taken seriously if I looked like a woman, would I? So I wear these clothes, keep my hair bound under this cap, and talk like a boy.” She made a face. “Unfortunately, I sing like a girl.”

“You sing like an angel,” Juan assured her. “Does your father make you use a boy’s name, too?”

“My birth name is Huang Mingyu. ‘Huang’ is our family, and ‘Mingyu’ means, ‘Bright Jade.’ It can be the name of a boy or a girl, so I didn’t have to change it.”

“Let me make sure I have your name right.” He tried repeating it.

She laughed. “No, no, not like that. Each syllable must have the right one of the five tones. Or its meaning can change. What is your commandant at the fort like? Is he a strict disciplinarian?”

He thought for a moment. “I would say so.”

“Well, ‘strict’ in Chinese is ‘Yan-ge’. Third tone, third tone. But if you said it first tone, first tone, it would mean —” she held up two fingers and then made a snipping action with them “that he had been castrated.”

Cardona twitched. “I think that I will speak Chinese as little as possible.” He looked at her, eyebrows slightly raised. “So what did your song mean, anyway?”

“It’s a love song,” Mingyu explained. “The heroine warns her Chung Tzu not to climb over the household fence, even though she loves him. There’s a bit of humor in it, because in the first stanza, she says, ‘don’t break the willows we have planted,’ and then adds, ‘not that I mind about the willows.’ What she’s worried about, she explains, is that if he leaves signs of his passage, her father and mother will realize that she’s taken a lover. In the second stanza, she says that she’s afraid her brother will find out when Chung Tzu breaks the mulberries, and in the third and last, of what people will say when he breaks a sandalwood tree.”

“So does he climb over the fence anyway?”

“The song doesn’t answer that question. Now, if you could speak Chinese, Captain Cardona, you could compose your own fourth stanza, and have the lovers act as you think best.”

“Lieutenant Cardona, actually.”

“I promoted you to captain, since you liked my singing.”

“How did you get to be so fluent in Spanish?”

“My father has been taking me on his trading voyages since I was five, and we have been coming to Manila almost as long. I spent several months here each year, while we traded silk and porcelain for your Spanish silver and manufactures. Sometimes longer, if we stayed beyond the changing of the monsoon, or if my father left me behind while he made a run elsewhere. So I have had ample opportunity to learn Spanish. I even got my letters from your priests….”

“But you aren’t a Christian?”

“If I were baptized, your priests would make me live in the Binondo and not return to China, lest I relapse into paganism. And I am my father’s only surviving child….”

“I understand,” said Juan. “But it would be better if you led him to the faith, too. Remember, you wouldn’t have to pay license fees to stay year-round, and you’d be exempt from tribute for ten years. And I think there have been cases in which converted ships’ captains have been allowed to return to China.”

“I will keep all that in mind. May I trouble you to carry something out of the shop for me?”

“If you’ll sing for me again.”

Manila

February 12, 1634

It was day 15 of month 1 of the year Jia-xu, in the 72nd cycle since the emperor Huang Ti had created the calendar of the Middle Kingdom. The final day of the Chinese New Year celebration. The Chinese of Manila, infidel and Christian alike, had come out that night, carrying lanterns. Not ordinary lanterns, but paper lanterns in every possible color and shape. The most common were red spheres, but there were also green dragonflies, golden dragons, and multicolored birds and butterflies.

Since much of Manila outside the walls was still built of wood, this made the Spanish authorities nervous. Even though it was a Sunday, it was necessary to keep an eye on the festivities. A fire could start by accident, not just through malign intent. The Parian itself had burnt down in 1588, 1597, 1603, and 1629. While some of the new buildings had adobe ground floors, they still had upper floors of wood, with overhanging balconies, and the majority of the constructions were built with the native nipa palm and merely roofed with tiles.

On this special night, there were hordes of Sangleys upon the streets of the enclosed quarter and thousands more outside. Lieutenant Cardona had volunteered for the festival watch, and his sacrifice of his day off was appreciated by his fellow officers. Of course, he had his own reasons for volunteering.

Turning his head back and forth, Juan realized that he didn’t even know whether the woman he sought would be dressed as a man or as a woman.

“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” thought Juan. “Or perhaps, given that she is a Chinese, it would be better to say, looking for a single grain of polished rice in a barrel of the ordinary kind. Or one firefly in a swarm.”

At least, there was no problem seeing faces. Besides the light provided by lanterns themselves, there was the full moon, which had risen perhaps an hour and a half after sunset.

“What do you think of our festival of lights, Lieutenant?”

He turned swiftly. It was Mingyu. She was wearing a long black silk jacket over a pleated skirt. The latter was in the “phoenix tail” style: strips of satin, in different colors, embroidered with flowers and birds. She wore a silver hairpin in the shape of some mythological beast, and was carrying a blue lantern, shaped like a shark.

“It is very exciting. Is there some religious motivation for it?”

“Oh, pah. Depends on who you ask. The Taoists have one story, the Buddhists another, and the Confucians a third. The story which I like is that the Most Venerable Jade Emperor of the Heavenly Golden Palace issued orders to his civil servants to punish a town by setting it on fire. The paperwork started making its way through the celestial bureaucracy. In the nick of time, the townspeople were warned by an ancestral spirit, who told them to make and light the lanterns. The Jade Emperor saw the lights and thought the town was already burning, so he canceled the order for its destruction.”

“A nice story. But… civil servants? Bureaucracy?”

“If you ever visit the Middle Kingdom, you will understand.”

“So what do you do during the Lantern Festival? I wasn’t in Manila for the last one, I was with the company in Terranate. That’s in the Moluccas. The Spice Islands.”

Mingyu shrugged. “Walk around, look at the lanterns, try to figure out the riddles.”

“Riddles?”

“Didn’t you see the words written on the lanterns?”

“I thought they were just ornamental scribbles.”

“Humph!” She turned her back, and crossed her arms. She waited, trying to watch Juan out of the corner of her eye.

“I am sorry, Madonna, I meant no offense. May I buy you something to eat?” He gestured toward a street vendor, who jiggled his tray.

She turned around to face him. “I suppose. I want a Yuanxiao dumpling. No, not that one!” She exchanged a few words in Chinese with the vendor. “The one over there—it has honey, and walnuts, and tangerine peel.”

Juan paid the fellow and handed the sweet to Mingyu.

“Now you can watch me eat, as punishment,” she said. “As I was saying … there are riddles written on the lantern or on papers attached to them…. If you think you know the answer… (you can ask the lantern owner whether you are right.)” She delicately wiped her lips with a small cloth after she finished the treat. “If you’re correct, they give you a little prize.”

Juan glanced at the crowd. “There are a lot of couples walking around—that’s unusual.”

“This is, traditionally, a night on which there is no curfew. Boys watch girls, girls watch boys, matchmakers watch everybody. Of course, here, most of the girls are indios or mestizas.”

“But the Chinese can’t marry here unless they convert!” said Juan.

“Yes, but they can have special friends.” Mingyu blushed.

“What’s the riddle on your lantern?” asked Juan abruptly.

“You have to guess,” said Mingyu. “If you’re right, I’ll give you a small prize.” She gave him a sly smile that made his cheeks itch.

He suddenly hoped that he wasn’t blushing. “But I don’t know Chinese!”

She made a face. “That’s true. It says, ‘Sea, Mother. Brothers, Many. Land, Death.’ ”

“You know, I should get three guesses.”

“Why?”

“Well, back in Spain, when you play a riddle-game, you traditionally get three guesses. And Manila is in the Philippines, which is a colony of Mexico, which is a colony of Spain, so Spanish rules should apply.”

“You should have become a lawyer, not a soldier. But all right.”

“Good. My first guess is… ‘shark’!” He pointed at her lantern.

“Good guess, but wrong.”

“Oh… how about ‘fish’?”

“Still no. One more guess.”

Juan sighed.

“Don’t look so glum. You’ll have another chance at my prize next year,” she snickered.

“Wave!”

Mingyu straightened her shoulders. “Next year, you only get one guess. But for now… bend your knees, please, you’re too tall.” He bent, and she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. He tried to give her one in return, and she said, “No, no, not so fast. I must get to know you better.”

“My apologies. I couldn’t help myself. You are a, um, a Chinese Cleopatra.”

“Who is Cleopatra?”

He explained.

“Well, you know the right words to say to a young lady, I’ll grant you,” said Mingyu. “Since my father isn’t around, you will have to ask my closest male relative for permission to court me. If that’s what you want to do.”

“Most certainly. Who would that be?”

“Why, it would be me, during the day, when I am wearing my boy’s clothing, of course.”

Manila
March 1634

Lieutenant Juan Cardona stood on Fort Santiago’s westernmost ramparts, the Baluarte de Santa Barbara. He peered through a spyglass, ignoring the wind that whipped against his cloak. Yes, there it was, his eyes had not deceived him. A signal fire had been lit on the top of the island of Corregidor, thirty miles west of Manila, at the entrance of Manila Bay. That solitary blaze indicated that a Chinese ship was approaching.

After a few hours, the junk itself came into sight, the watchman’s little escort boat following it like a small child walking a very large dog. The two were making reasonably good time. While the northeast monsoon sometimes blew strongly out of the bay, as it had that morning, it was afternoon now, and there was a helpful sea breeze from the southwest. The tide was also in their favor.

The visitor was a large junk, with two masts and ten cannon, but that wasn’t what made it noteworthy. It wasn’t a Chinese trader after all; the banner it flew over its stern proclaimed it to be a “red seal” ship, that is, a Japanese vessel traveling under the license of the Shogun.

“Sergeant!” Juan shouted.

“Sir!”

“I am off to see the castellan, take my spyglass–he handed the instrument to the sergeant–“and send me word if it changes course.”

“Yes, sir.”

∞∞∞

The Casa del Castellano was near the north wall of the fort, between the Baluarte de Santa Barbara and the Baluarte de San Francisco, and it overlooked the Plaza Armas, where the troops would be assembled for review. It was two stories, built of stone with a red tile roof. Only the upper floor had windows.

Juan nodded to the sentry and went up the steps to the office of the castellan of Fort Santiago, Lucas de Vergara Gavira. He was greeted by the castellan’s aide, Alonzo, and Juan told him the reason for the visit. Juan was quickly ushered in. The castellan’s desk was to Juan’s left, facing the center of the room. Directly across from Juan were two windows, and between them was a large gold cross. On the wall to Juan’s right was a Chinese silk hanging, a portrait of King Philip III, and two crossed swords. Papers were piled on top of the castellan’s desk and also on the vargueno cabinet to one side, which was made of the native tanguile.

The castellan motioned for Juan to take a seat.

“A red seal ship?” Gavira exclaimed. “How extraordinary! No such vessel has been seen in Manila harbor, since, oh, 1630.”

“I wouldn’t know, sir,” said Juan. “I came over on the Capitana San Ignacio, in July 1629, but I went down to Ternate with the relief company in November of that year and didn’t return here until 1632.”

“Well, it would be good for the economy if the Japanese resumed trade here. The governor will want to be informed.”

“Should I go to him, sir?”

“No, you had best return to your post. I will send messengers.” Gavira rummaged through his papers until he found several blank sheets and set out a quill and ink bottle.

“Alonzo!” he shouted.

The aide poked his head into the room. “Sir?”

“I need two messengers.”

“On it, sir.”

Juan fidgeted, not sure whether he was free to go or not.

By the time Gavira had finished writing, the messengers were at his door.

“Take these!” he said to them. “They are identical; one is for the governor and the other for Fray Jeronimo Medrano, the Provincial Superior of the Augustinians.”

“Why the Augustinians, sir?”

“We need someone who can translate Japanese,” said Gavira. “And the Augustinians are the senior order in Manila. They would complain if we asked for aid from any other clergy. Especially the Jesuits….”

He shook his head.

“You had best return to your duties— Wait a moment. Since you spotted the red seal ship, you should have the honor of greeting it. Go to the Puerta Almacenes, and I will have the translator sent to meet you. And I will have another officer take up the rest of your shift at Santa Barbara. Keep me informed.”

∞∞∞

The Japanese ship anchored short of the bar in front of the Pasig river. The guard ship continued on, docking close to the Puerta Almacenes, the river gate nearest Fort Santiago.

Juan borrowed a spyglass from the sergeant of the gate and studied the Japanese junk. At this close range, he noticed that, compared to the Chinese junks that were frequent visitors to Manila, it had little cargo but a large crew on its deck, and he wondered what this might signify.

Turning his scope on the guard boat, Juan could see that a Spanish corporal was disembarking, presumably to make his report to the fort. Well, there was more to be gained by studying the junk. Juan continued his telescopic study of the Japanese vessel until he heard the corporal hail the fort. Juan handed the scope back to the sergeant, and the corporal saluted Juan.

“The sergeant of Corregidor sends his respects, and has instructed me to report on the reason for the arrival of this Japanese vessel, the Asahi Maru.”

“Please proceed,” said Juan.

“The Asahi Maru is not here to trade. It carries a diplomatic mission, led by the new daimyo of Arima, and a high shogunate official. They have come, they say, to talk about the circumstances under which Spanish ships might once again trade in Nagasaki.”

“And how do you know this? Do you speak Japanese?” asked Juan, eyebrows raised.

“They brought a Dutch translator with them,” the corporal admitted. ‘They also have letters of introduction, under seal.”

“I see….”Juan turned around and saw that the Augustinian translator had arrived and was waiting patiently. He wore a simple black cassock.

“Father …”

“Diaz. Father Diaz.”

“You speak Japanese?

“I do. I minister to the Japanese in the Dilao.”

“Excellent. You will come with me.” He turned back to the corporal. “Take me to the Asahi Maru.”

∞∞∞

“I am the senior retainer to my Lord Arima,” said one of the Japanese. His words were translated by the Dutchman, with the Augustinian listening closely to keep the Dutchman honest. “As I hope you have been informed, we are here to discuss possible new trade relationships. I remind you that he is a daimyo”–the interpreter explained that this meant “great lord”–“and he expects that he and his staff would be housed within the Intramuros, the Walled City of Manila, in a home suitable for his rank, and not consigned like a merchant to stay in the Parian or the Dilao, outside the city.”

Juan bowed. “I welcome him in the name of the Governor-General of the Philippines and the castellan of Fort Santiago. I will convey the lord’s wishes to the governor-general. In the meantime, you will need to remain on your vessel, but I can have food and drink delivered to you.”

“That would be appreciated,” said the retainer.

∞∞∞

Juan returned to Gavira’s office to report the latest developments and hand over the letters. Juan asked, “Would you like me to take this news to the governor, sir?”

“What’s that? No, no, I will do it.” He called out to his aide, “Alonzo, I need my dress uniform.”

He looked at Juan. “Since you spoke to the emissary’s retainer, I guess you had best come along. But let me do the talking, unless the governor or I invite you to speak. And even then, keep your remarks short and to the point.”

∞∞∞

As the castellan of Fort Santiago, Gavira had the privilege of immediate audience with the interim Governor-General of the Philippines, Juan Cerezo de Salamanca. In sharp contrast to the clutter on Gavira’s desk, Salamanca’s was virtually bare. Juan Cardona, who followed Gavira into Salamanca’s office, did not know whether this was testament to his efficiency or to a knack for avoiding work. Salamanca had taken office less than a year ago, and he and Juan didn’t exactly move in the same circles.

“Hmmph…” said Salamanca. “I don’t want to offer a discourtesy, especially at the start of a possibly historic embassy, but …” He spread his hands.

Gavira nodded. “But there are obvious security issues with allowing a couple of hundred Japanese into the sanctum of Intramuros. Why, Spanish law doesn’t even allow the Chinese and Japanese of Manila to be in the Intramuros between sunset and sunrise.”

That was true, Juan thought, although the authorities looked the other way when the leading citizens kept Chinese servants overnight, as long as they stayed inside rather than roaming the streets at night.

“And the confounded Japanese samurai will insist on keeping their swords with them,” Gavira added glumly.

∞∞∞

After consulting with Gavira and other advisers, the governor gave permission for the daimyo to pick twenty retainers to reside with him in Intramuros. The remainder could stay in the Chinese Parian or the Japanese Dilao, and the sailors could take the Asahi Maru to the port of Cavite, seven miles southwest of Manila.

Juan was directed to so inform the Japanese. They weren’t happy, but at last they agreed.

∞∞∞

With a huff, the two porters lowered the sedan chair to the ground, facing the Puerta Almacenes, the Warehouse Gate. The sedan chair in question was not the fanciest sort, with an enclosed cabin and curtains, but it did have a V-shaped roof, made of straw on a bamboo frame, which rested on the heavy bamboo carrying pole, and a chair rather than a mere basket. The chair proper was suspended from the pole, and could rock back and forth as the occupant was carried to his destination.

From the dubious comfort of the grounded sedan chair, Hattori Momochi watched impassively as the Spanish military escort formed a double line, creating a lane of honor leading to the gate. He studied the gate and the surrounding battlements closely.

A cannon boomed from the nearest bastion, beginning what was plainly a salute. Hattori Momochi started counting silently. The cannon boomed again, and Hattori made a mental note of the time interval the Spanish needed for reloading. White smoke rose from the bastion and dispersed.

The gate opened, and an officer stepped forward. “I am Lieutenant Francesco de Gallardo, commander of the First Company. I welcome you to the Intramuros. I will take you to the quarters that have been assigned to you.”

Hattori’s interpreter thanked the officer, and Hattori made a hand signal. The porters heaved up the sedan chair, causing the chair to swing violently for a moment, and rested the carrying pole on their shoulders.

Preceded by an honor guard from the First Company, Lieutenant de Gallardo, and two retainers carrying ornamental pikes, and followed by the rest of Hattori’s retainers and bearers, Hattori’s sedan chair made its way down the lane of honor and through the gate.

Hattori tried to hold his breath as long as he could. He couldn’t decide which was worse, the stench of the unwashed common soldiers, or that same stench overlaid by the strong perfume, of Javan frankincense perhaps, favored by Lieutenant de Gallardo. Hattori earnestly hoped that the quarters the delegation had been promised would include a proper bath, but he wasn’t counting on it.

The procession turned and made its way down to the Plaza Mayor. There it halted, giving the chair-men a chance to rest. Lieutenant de Gallardo walked over to Hattori and told him, ‘This is the main square. On the east side we have the Manila Cathedral, and to the north the Palacio Real o Casas del Cabildo, where you will meet with the governor.”

Hearing the translation, Hattori gave a polite nod. After more delay than he thought necessary, Lieutenant de Gallardo gave the command for the procession to continue. It made several turns, all of which Hattori memorized, until at last they reached their immediate destination, the vacant Intramuros home that had been put at his disposal.

Once the sedan chair was once again grounded, the bearers bowed deeply, and Hattori stood up. He stretched himself and wondered what the Spanish lieutenant made of what was probably his first sight of a daimyo’s kami-shimo. This consisted of a formal silk kimono, the hakama, a divided skirt made of a heavy cloth, and the kataginu, an over-jacket with stiffened shoulders that extended several inches out from his body. The narrow suspenders of the kataginu and the sleeves of the kimono were marked with the Arima kamon, a black five-petaled flower.

∞∞∞

Inspecting his new quarters, Hattori found it to be a courtyard house with two stories, the lower of stone and the upper of wood, with a red tile roof. Back home, an inn would have a tsubo, a walled garden, but the courtyard here was fill of weeds. Plainly, this home had been vacant for quite a while.

Servants bustled about, bringing the baggage into the guest house and placing it as directed by Hattori’s senior retainers. The baggage was in lacquered wooden boxes or bamboo baskets, marked with the same kamon.

Looking out from the balcony of the second story, Hattori, saw that Spanish guards were discreetly posted outside the entrance to the house and at the two adjacent street corners. He shrugged. They could easily be evaded, or dealt with, when the time for action came.

Juan and two of his fellow lieutenants, Francesco and Hernando, met at sunset at the Plaza Mayor, the main square of the walled portion of the city.

Juan and Hernando had come over on the same ship and had became friends while at sea. Francesco had joined the Manila garrison several years earlier, and had “shown them the ropes.” All three were off duty now.

Filipino servants walked on the cobblestone streets surrounding the square, many carrying jugs or baskets on their heads as they took goods back to their households. With the last rays of the setting sun shining on the white adobe of the cathedral, the stone seemed to be glowing gold. In the cathedral, vespers should have begun. The choir would be chanting, Deus, in adiutorium meum intende. “O God, come to my assistance.”

“I must say I am envious of you both,” complained Hernando. “Juan is the first in the garrison to spot the Asahi Maru and to report it to the governor.”

“I was just lucky,” said Juan. “And Gavira took most of the credit.”

Hernando continued fulminating. “And Francesco, he gets to escort the Japanese lord into the Intramuros. The escort duty should have been my assignment. My company has responsibility for the river side.”

“Or it should have been mine,” protested Juan, “since I was the first officer to greet the Japanese lord and had thus already established a relationship.”

Francesco shrugged. “I am a nobleman, and you are merely gentlemen. Rank hath its privileges. Get over it.”

“It would help, Oh Exalted One, if you would buy us some wine.”

“Very well…” said Francesco.

Several rounds later, Hernando told Juan, “This little trifle aside, you’ve been way too cheerful lately,” Hernando told Juan. “What’s going on?”

“I think he has met a senorita,” said Francesco. “Isn’t that right, Juan?”

Juan shrugged.

“Don’t hold out on us, Juan!” Hernando urged.

Juan blushed. “Well, yes, I suppose I have.”

“You blush like a girl,” snickered Hernando.

Never mind that,” said Francesco. “Tell us what she looks like!”

“Well, she is shorter than me, with alabaster skin, a small mouth with ruby lips and pearly teeth. She has raven-dark hair and … large, almond-shaped eyes….” He gave them a challenging stare.

Hernando’s own eyes widened. “She’s Asian?”

“Chinese,” Juan admitted.

“Where does she live?” Francesco asked.

“In the Parian.”

“You can’t be serious,” Francesco told Juan. “You can’t court a Chinese girl who isn’t even a Christian.”

“I don’t know for sure she isn’t Christian.”

“She’s living in the Parian, isn’t she? If she were Christian, she’d have been moved to Binondo. So she wouldn’t backslide into paganism.”

“I didn’t know there even were any Sangley girls in the Parian,” their friend and fellow soldier, Hernando, added. “It’s mostly young fellows out to make a quick buck. By cheating us, of course.”

“My point,” Francesco continued, “is that you can’t trust her.”

“He’s right,” said Hernando. “Bed her, and one morning, you’ll wake up with your throat slit.”

Juan chuckled. “If my throat’s been cut, exactly how will I wake up?” Hernando made a face.

“And even if you could trust her,” Francesco continued, “you couldn’t marry her. Unless she was willing to convert, of course.”

“If you’re feeling frustrated,” said Hernando, “just pick out an indio wench or two. You can buy one of the lower class for a pittance. She’ll provide you with everything the Sangley could, and at no risk.”

“Except clap,” said Francesco.

“What either of you know about women could be written on the nail of my pinkie,” said Juan.

A few days later….

What, wondered Yosioka Kuzaemon, was the proper form of address, in private, to a jonin, a ninja leader, who was disguised as a daimyo?

He decided to err on the side of caution. Putting his hand in front of his mouth, as it would be improper to breathe on a superior, he said, “Obugyo-sama.” That is, “my lord official.”

Hattori Momochi, still wearing the formal kama-shima, gestured for Yosioka to make himself comfortable.

Yosioka folded his feet beneath him. To make the room homier, some tatami mats had been spread out. And to preserve the proper degrees of respect, Hottori’s servants had brought a platform whose sole purpose was to elevate Hattori a few inches above the floor.

A scroll depicting a seascape had been hung on a wall so as to provide a focus for artistic appreciation. As Hattori’s most important guest, Yosioka sat with his back to the scroll, just as he would have were it properly displaced in a tokonoma, an alcove, back in Japan. The only other man in the makeshift audience room was Norihiro, a chunin, or subleader of the ninja, and he sat where he could keep an eye on the entrance to the room as well as its only window, which was shuttered closed.

“I think we have made a good beginning,” said Hattori. “The governor seems impressed by our show of friendship.”

“Hide a knife behind a smile,” quoted Kuzaemon. It was one of the thirty-six stratagems from the Book of Qi.

“Our immediate goal,” Hattori continued, “is to determine what changes of military importance have occurred since you were last here.” Kuzaemon had been with the delegation sent by Matsukura Shigemasa in 1630, ostensibly to negotiate over the Siam incident, but in actuality to collect intelligence for a proposed invasion. “Then we can decide where best to strike.”

With a few exceptions, such as Kuzaemon, all of the passengers on the “Red Seal” ship were ninja, disguised as samurai, or servants of one sort or another. Most, like Kuzaemon, had been forced by the suspicious Spanish to take quarters outside Intramuros or had remained on board the ship. However, that meant that there was reason for a small party, including Kuzaemon, to visit the “daimyo” daily, so he could give instructions to his “vassals.” Certainly, he couldn’t be expected to travel to them.

Hattori gestured at a small lacquered table that bore two cups and a beaker of sake. “Please, Kuzaemon, pour yourself a drink while I refamiliarize myself with the map you made.” As Kuzaemon reached for the beaker, Hattori spread a large map of Manila out on the floor and studied it.

As he sipped the sake, Kuzaemon couldn’t help but look down at the map, and his eyes quickly picked out the places of importance. First and foremost, the triangular citadel of Santiago, where the Pasig River emptied into Manila Bay. It occupied one corner of the roughly pentagonal walled city, which was defended not merely by walls, but by sea, river, and moat.

One wall ran southeast, along the shore of Manila Bay, from the citadel to the Baluarte de San Diego. Another ran more or less eastward along the Pasig, to the Baluarte San Gabriel. The remaining walls curved, first east and then north, from San Diego to San Gabriel. These were interrupted twice by bastions, those of San Nicholas and San Francisco de Dilao.

It was not by chance that the pagan Chinese, who had rebelled before, were forced to live in the Parian, under the guns of San Gabriel, or that sometimes boisterous Japanese were settled in the Dilao, where the soldiers of San Francisco could keep a wary eye on them.

“Well, one change is pretty obvious, they’ve let their moat fill in.”

Hattori nodded. “When they gave us the grand tour of the Intramuros, I noticed that they haven’t kept the walls in good repair, either.”

Kuzaemon set down his cup. “According to the Chinese traders, there are six Spanish companies in Manila. Nominally a hundred men apiece, but a fair number were conscripts sent here from Mexico on the last Acapulco galleon, and some have been lost through disease and desertion. Fresh troops will come on the next Acapulco galleon—as early as April, but most likely in July. That’s why we need to strike quickly.”

“Where are these companies located?”

“During the day, I would guess that there are three companies within the walls. At night, if there is no threat, three-quarters of the troops are quartered outside. But there will always be at least fifty to a hundred men in Fort Santiago, and there will be some soldiers in the main bastions.”

Hattori smiled grimly. “Well, we have some surprises in store for them.”

Dear Uncle Dragon, wrote Mingyu. We live in interesting times. A delegation has come from Japan, ostensibly about trade. The Spanish fear that the Japanese have warlike intentions, and, as they did in 1630, have paraded the troops in front of them and given them a tour of the defenses of the walled city.

No doubt they think that the Japanese will be impressed by the strength of Manila and once again decline to attack. But if the warriors of Nippon do attack, they now know the numbers of the Spanish troops and the conditions of all the walls and bastions.

Some of these Japanese visitors have made contact with some of the more unruly elements of our own people, here in the Parian, and I wonder where this will lead.

I continue to cultivate a useful contact among the Spanish garrison, the young lieutenant I previously wrote you about. He presently commands the Parian gate, but I have encouraged him to seek the command of the Puerta de los Almacenes, since it controls the access to the customs warehouse.

May heaven look with favor on all your endeavors.

The next day, the letter was on an outbound junk, to be delivered, in due course, to Zheng Zhilong, the Patrolling Admiral of Fujian Province, and formerly the leader of a pirate fleet. He was not, strictly speaking, her uncle—she was a Huang, like his own mother—but it was customary to use “uncle” to refer to older male relatives when you didn’t want to be specific about the relationship. In any event, she was close enough to him in blood to be one of his most trusted spies in the Manila trade.

Later the same week, Mingyu’s father, who skippered one of the ships in the Zheng family’s merchant fleet, came to visit her, and he brought news sent to Manila a month or so earlier by Zheng Zhilong’s agents in Nagasaki. He reported the seizure of the three large ships of Portuguese Macau’s “Japan Fleet” and the Dutch naval activity and Japanese military buildup in Nagasaki.

Mingyu’s father told her, “Putting this all together, I fear Manila is in grave danger of a joint Dutch-Japanese assault. Move our inventory out of the Intramuros and split it into several well-hidden caches within the Parian. Continue to monitor developments in the Intramuros, but be prepared to flee to our safe house if there is trouble, and leave a distress signal in the usual place at the first opportunity. I will come get you there if need be.”

“Are we going to warn the Spanish?”

“No, not without Zheng Zhilong’s permission. And I think Zheng Zhilong would prefer that the Spanish get humbled. After all, we can get silver from Japan rather than New Spain.”

“May I at least give Juan a hint that he should be careful?”

“Absolutely not,” admonished her father. “You don’t want to be the dragon boat oarsman that pulls at the wrong time and spoils the race.”

∞∞∞

Mingyu had to obey her father but that didn’t stop her from worrying about Juan. At last she sought out Cut-Nose. The old sailor had known her since she first ran across the deck of a ship when she was two years old.

“Cut-Nose, I want you to have your agents keep an eye on Juan.”

“What are we trying to find out about him?”

“This is not an intelligence mission,” said Mingyu, emphasizing her point with a head-shake. “This is more of a, um, protective detail.”

“I see. And if your father asks why we are protecting this Spaniard?”

“Uncle Dragon says that he is a valuable asset.”

Cut-Nose raised his eyebrows. “He is certainly valuable to someone….”

She started stammering a denial of personal interest, but Cut-Nose held up his hand. “Don’t worry, I’ll have it done.”